Deering Town Hall is located at 762 Deering Center Road, Deering, NH 03244; phone: 603-464-2746.
The first inhabitants of the Deering area were Native Americans, probably Western Abenakis who were part of the Algonquin Tribe. They lived primarily by hunting and fishing, but also did some farming. However, by the time Deering was first surveyed by settlers in 1753, the Native American population had already been decimated by diseases introduced by the Europeans. There were some clashes between the Native Americans and the settlers, but as with the rest of the country, the Europeans ultimately established dominance and the Native Americans were forced to disperse or relocate to refugee communities.
The thirty-six square mile town that was to become Deering was carved out of a large land grant the British king gave to Captain John Mason in 1621. In 1746 John Tufton Mason, great grandson of the original John Mason, sold his entire claim to twelve wealthy merchants from Portsmouth. This group of investors was known as the Masonian Proprietors. The unsettled portion of their land was called the "Society Lands." It was bounded on the south by the present towns of Lyndeborough, Peterborough and Dublin; on the north by Hillsborough and Henniker; on the west by Nelson and Stoddard and on the east by Weare and New Boston.
In 1753 the Masonian Proprietors surveyed the Society Lands and divided it into fifteen equal sections. Each proprietor then was deeded a big lot of about 4,000 acres. Once the divisions were made the proprietors "drew lots" to determine the exact location of the land they would own. The proprietors then divided the entire parcel into approximately six-by-six mile new towns. In 1774 the large lots from 11 through 15 to the east of the Contoocook River were incorporated as the Town of Deering, named for Governor Wentworth's wife Frances Deering. As new settlers streamed into the Society Lands they created the new Towns of Francestown (also after Wentworth's wife), Greenfield, Hancock, Antrim and, in 1842, Bennington.
The earliest Deering settlers were groups of like-mined people—mostly Scotch-Irish and English from Londonderry—seeking to build a new community in the forests. They began arriving in the 1760s, some 150 years after the first settlers in Massachusetts, once the area was relatively safe from Native American attacks. Families from Londonderry, such as the McKeens, Forsaiths, Aikens, Pattens and Shearers, were among the first newcomers to Deering. These first Deering settlers could buy one or more fifty-acre parcels of land and establish a family farm. One plot in the new town was reserved for a Congregational minister and an additional plot was set aside to support a public school.
In the 1770s a great influx of new settlers from Londonderry, Chester and Amherst moved into Deering. Together they cleared hundreds of acres of fields, built roads, held yearly Town Meetings and elected Town officers, the most important of which were the Selectmen and Town Clerk. Some, like the Aikens, Dows, and Lockes, volunteered to join the Revolutionary War. Others, like the Loverens, were major builders of the Town and oversaw the construction of both the East Deering and Center churches and the fine colonial houses, some of which are still standing on East Deering Road. A few, like Russell Tubbs, opened stores. Most of the newcomers farmed and raised large families. By the first census in 1790, Deering was home to 928 citizens, about 130 more than neighboring Hillsborough.
One of the major efforts of the new Deering citizens was to build a Town meeting house. After considerable argument over where the center of the Town actually was, the Town meeting agreed to erect a building. Deering and volunteers from neighboring towns turned out to raise the building and the new meetinghouse was completed in 1788, later extended by a third to its present size in 1927 by members of the Community Club. From 1788 until 1829 the meetinghouse served as both church and civic center, before becoming the "Town Hall." This old building, much in need of attention after 216 years of constant use, remains the historic center of Deering and symbolizes its collective sense of community. On Christmas Eve, 1789, a group launched the first church in the newly constructed meetinghouse. Most Deeringites at that time were strong Calvinists who believed in God's grace and thought people should live to glorify the Creator. The strong winds of temperance were also blowing though Town, and hundreds of citizens turned out to hear speakers rail against the evils of alcohol. After 1819, when New Hampshire passed the Toleration Act Law separating church and state, the Congregational Church was forced out of its home in the Town Hall and in 1829, members of the Congregational Society financed the building of the present independent church in the Center, completed in 1829.
By 1820, Deering had mushroomed to 1,415 residents. Farmers were growing sheep to provide wool for the burgeoning textile mills in Hillsborough and other towns that were lucky enough to have been built near waterfalls.
Most citizens were literate thanks to the tax supported free public schools that welcomed all young people who wanted an education through eighth grade. At one time Deering supported eleven public schools. Two of the original school buildings still are still standing and retain their original form: the buildings of the East Deering School and the Town library. Two other old school buildings are now private homes. Well-informed citizens turned out in large numbers for state and national elections, and until 1924 most cast their ballots for Democratic Party candidates. Financing schools and maintaining roads has accounted for the major civic expenditures in Deering history from the first Town Meeting to the present.
In 1860 Deering had several stores, many water mills, three post offices, two hotels and many successful farms. Even so, the population had declined from 1,415 in 1820 to only 890 in 1850. Deering had little industry, and sheep grazing was depleting its once fertile farmland and topsoil that had slowly built up for thousands of years was giving out. Meanwhile, neighboring towns, built near waterfalls or by rivers that could be dammed, were adapting to the Industrial Revolution that had moved up from the Merrimack Valley cities of Lowell and Manchester.
The Civil War marked a watershed in Deering history. Few locals actually served in the army because the Town Meeting voted to raise money to pay for substitutes for those who were drafted, but even so the population continued to decline as a result of the war. By 1880 the number of people living in Deering had fallen to 674 and by 1900 to 486, half the number of its founding years. In the 1904 presidential election, fewer than a hundred voters cast their ballots. By that time the Lockes, Ellsworths, Loverens and Forsaiths were the only descendents of the early settling families still living in Deering.
By 1900 Hillsborough had become a major village of 2,254 people and was an important manufacturing and rail center. As Hillsborough industrialized, the Town accepted some of the new waves of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. As the Town history explains, "Immigration has rapidly increased our numbers. Hillsborough has shared in the new impetus given to business in the coming of foreign blood." Deering, on the other hand, remained largely northern European Protestant.
By the turn of the century, Deering farmlands were exhausted. The millennia of mostly untouched forests had laid a small band of topsoil across the Town. When the settlers came and cut down these trees to make new fields, they were able to grow abundant crops for three generations. However, after the Civil War, the land began to give out and many of the young men who had volunteered to fight in the Civil War had seen the open spaces and fertile lands of the American West. These two factors combined to end successful farming in Deering. Added to the decline of farming was the fact that Deering did not have a powerful waterfall and consequently did not share in the rapid industrialization of New Hampshire towns in the 19th century. However, many farms, including many in the Lake District began raising sheep to supply wool to Hillsborough mills and the sheep's sharp teeth provided the end for Deering agriculture.
However, few old natives responded, and by 1920 Deering's population was at an all-time low with a mere 288 people trying to eek out a meager existence from the tired land. Gradually, however, a new influx of settlers including many European immigrants began to trickle into Town. This second wave of newcomers had come originally from Germany, Scotland, Sweden, Ireland, and Canada with the dream of owning their own land. Although many had ended up working in the Massachusetts mills, some still clung to that hope. Unhappy factory workers dreaming of owning their own farms coincided with the massive exodus of the old-stock Yankee farmers fleeing west or grudgingly accepting jobs in the factories of nearby towns. The deserted farms in towns like Deering, selling for very little, seemed to offer the innocent new immigrants the fulfillment of their dreams. The new immigrant settlers, who had benefited from a rise in wages during World War I, were able to buy up the vacated farmland for very little; a mere $1,000 might buy three hundred acres plus buildings. Not realizing that under the uncut hay lay acres of rocks waiting to be carried off to walls, the immigrants saw only the potential to own land and become masters of their own fate.
In the first twenty years of the new century families like the Woods, Lawsons, Johnsons, Titcombs, Wilsons, Grueniers, Desmarais, Normandins, Bissonettes, Gerinis and Olsons, mostly from Europe, came to settle in Deering. Most of them, having difficulty making a decent living farming, supplemented their modest incomes by chopping wood, working on the roads, driving trucks and working as carpenters. Some were forced to take jobs in the very factories they had fled only a few years before. But they stayed in Deering, and, together with their Yankee neighbors, they formed the new generation of citizens that shaped Deering history until World War II. By 1933, two of the three selectmen were European immigrants.
For most of the Deering families in the first half of the twentieth century, life was harsh and money was sparse. The population sank to an all-time low and farmers were fortunate if they could clear a thousand dollars per year, and most young men were forced to join the workforce after eighth grade rather than go on to high school. The nation-wide farm depression of the 1920s also struck Deering and the Great Depression in the 1930s plunged most into deeper poverty. Deering farmers were dealt a third blow in 1938 with the fiercest hurricane in memory. Barns and chicken houses were blown away and farmers watched their hens blowing away, never to lay eggs again.
In the early 20th century the drastic decline in farming led to a massive exodus of Deering families to Hillsborough, Manchester and further to the west to open new lands. The venerable old farmhouses and barns began to fall apart while the surrounding fields succumbed to the invading trees.